Includes bibliographical references (p. 279-343) and index
The Burdens of Sister Margaret invites you inside the private world of a seventeenth-century convent. Hidden until now from modern eyes, this is a world you will come to know in intimate detail - from the routine events that shaped the sisters' daily lives, to the extraordinary story that surrounded one sister, Margaret Smulders, who was possessed by demons and accused a popular chaplain of sexually harassing her
Ostracized by her cosisters for "soiling" their community and causing what they regarded as the unjust downfall of the chaplain, Sister Margaret was twice banished from the convent and, after years of struggle, exorcised of the demons she claimed were haunting her
How do we know so much about this convent? In 1989, historian Craig Harline made a startling discovery: Sorting through a Belgian archive, he uncovered several bundles of correspondence that the Franciscan Grey Sisters of a convent in Leuven (Louvain) had penned more than three centuries earlier
Here were pages and pages of astonishingly detailed letters that divulged some of the deepest, most personal hopes and concerns of this community of nuns. "I marveled at the survival of these papers, their prolixity, the noise of a convent sworn to silence, and the diverse viewpoints revealed," recalls Harline. He immersed himself in the world of the Grey Sisters and emerged with a compelling tale that provides a fresh perspective on the state of religious life in the tumultuous age of Reformation
With exquisite care, Harline tells the Grey Sisters' story by weaving together portions of their passionate letters. Much of the sisters' ink was spilled over their hostile opinions of Sister Margaret. While they campaigned fiercely to keep Margaret exiled from their community, Margaret implored ecclesiastical authorities to hear her side of the story and allow her to return to the convent. What will Margaret's destiny finally be? Will the sisters or superiors give her a fair hearing?
In the answers, we learn much about this clandestine world and the code of ethics that shaped convent life during this dynamic period of history